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Lakehead University Thunderwolves' Leashja Grant drives to the basket in this undated handout photo.Jarron Childs/The Canadian Press

One of Canadian university sports’ most dominant players was a grocery cashier at a corner store in Nassau only a couple of seasons ago.

U.S. visa issues had prevented Leashja Grant from returning from the Bahamas to Texas Tech to finish her NCAA career. She felt defeated. She lost interest in playing.

“Tech was my dream school, I had so much hope, I can say it was probably the love of my life,” Grant said. “But after that, I just went into a dark hole and I had given up. I told my dad I was done with ball.”

She worked out periodically with her dad Trevor, a high-school coach, but said she’d “just lost hope. I wasn’t really keen on basketball. It wasn’t a good year.”

When Lakehead University came calling, Grant admitted she was skeptical.

“I had my doubts,” Grant said. “But the biggest thing was being given a second opportunity after such devastation in 2016.”

Now in her second season with the Thunderwolves, the six-foot-two forward has become a force in the OUA West. She’s third in both scoring (22.3 points) and rebounding (12.7), and has led Lakehead to a 9-1 record, including wins over defending U Sports champion Carleton and No. 2-ranked Ryerson.

“It’s really, really good obviously because Leashja (pronounced lee-AY-zha), her main asset is rebounding, when she played at Texas Tech that’s what she was known for,” said Lakehead coach Jon Kreiner. “But she also has some very good skills for a big player, for a post player. So she can handle the ball, she can shoot the ball, and she’s pretty agile and has a good skill set.

“Basically we’re having the best player on the court each night, and so just learning how to play off of her has been our biggest challenge over the last little bit, and it’s a great challenge to have and we’re kind of jelling on that right now and figuring things out.”

The 24-year-old Grant averaged 7.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in 2015-16, her one season at Texas Tech before her visa expired. She made the mistake of returning home to renew it, and wasn’t allowed back.

Prior to Texas Tech, she played junior college basketball for Trinity Valley in Athens, Texas, averaging 12.1 points and 12.9 boards in her second and final season. She registered 23 double-doubles, and broke the school record when she hauled down 31 rebounds in a game.

Grant’s basketball was seemingly behind her when Donnathon Moss put a bug in Lakehead’s ear. Moss is also from the Bahamas, and is an assistant coach at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and a good friend of Kreiner’s assistant coach Lou Pero.

Grant admits she didn’t know a lot about Canada.

“When I thought of Canada, the only thing I thought of was snow,” she said, laughing.

Grant went on to earn OUA MVP last season, and her game has only continued to grow this season.

“Last year I was nervous and had all those jitters, but this year I’m breaking out a little bit, and I’m understanding the value (of U Sports),” she said.

What hasn’t grown is her feelings for the cold. It was a brisk -9 C during a recent phone interview.

“Yeah, it’s freezing,” she said.

The psychology major hopes to play professionally next season. Does she have any preference where?

“Somewhere hot,” Grant deadpanned.

Grant, whose favourite player is Dirk Nowitzki, is also a key member of the Bahamas’ women’s team. She led the country in both scoring and rebounding at the Centrobasket championships last summer where the Bahamas finished fifth.

Grant’s brother Trevon is a senior guard at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.

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